Schwarzesmarken – Review
Original Air Dates: Jan 11th, 2016 – March 28th, 2016
Synopsis: The BETA, violent alien monsters, seek to destroy humanity. In the 1980s, East Germany battles against them, holding back these horrific forces. The German Army’s 666th TSF Mech Squadron is at the forefront of the battle. However, the BETA are not the only enemy. Irisdina Berhard, captain of the 666, prepares for a battle with the Stazi, a government secret police that bend all of East Germany to their will. Along with Theodor Eberbach and the rest of her squad, Irisdina seeks to one day free East Germany from the corrupt rule of the Stazi and reunite the two Germanies, both East and West.
Review (Warning: Some Spoilers to Follow):
Tom: Schwarzesmarken doesn’t have a lot going for it. Let’s be honest about that upfront. What it does have going for it, the little that it does, are some really cool looking Mech battles rendered in stable, consistent CGI animation. It’s easily the best part of this entire series, watching as the Mechs battle against the horrific Beta, which are quite creepy, as well as other Mechs when the internal struggles with the Stazi come to a head. The designs for the mechs though, are another matter. They don’t stand out. They look bland and generic. That moves into the 2D animation for the series, used for depicting the human characters. It’s honestly really disappointing. The animation is often stilted, the character models looking ‘off’ in many shots, and sloppy in others. The 2D animation is never once awe-inspiring and remains a huge detractor, visually, for Schwarzesmarken all the way through.
Linny: The show just looks and feels very bare bones and low budget. Adding to the dismal look is the muted and dull colour scheme, which is clearly an artistic choice to help sell the desolate situation, but also ends up making for a depressing view. The BETA are definitely the high point of the show as they are so unique, visually interesting, and just plain creepy to look at. Yet they still manage to be a welcome sight over the human characters who have wooden movements and facial expressions, often feeling as muted as the colour scheme of the show.
Tom: As far as Schwarzesmarken’s story goes, there’s a fun alternate history setting here that might prove enjoyable, for those into that kind of thing. The series is at its best during the big, flashy, action sequences, even if the Mechs are a bit visually bland. But whenever Schwarzesmarken delves deep into its conspiracy, anti-government story, things become overwrought and hammy. It doesn’t approach Divine Gate levels of melodrama and hammy monologues, but the way the story is told in a heavy-handed nature yanks you right out of the concept entirely. Tension in scenes often feels forced, with few sequences really selling home the threat of the Stazi, beyond simple smirking, over confident asshole villains. The BETA threat on the other hand, often taking a backseat to the Stazi, actually does feel like a looming menace. It’s a pity we focus so little on them.
Linny: The vibe of the show is violent and dark. And while it doesn’t get excessively gory, it is not a cheerful show by any means. As someone completely ignorant of the MUV-LUV franchise that the show is based off, my ignorance may be contributing to my lack of enjoyment of the show. However, the show and its characters never managed to make a convincing tale. There is plenty of action and war scenes for fans of those, but the low budget look could still compromise any enjoyment to be had from viewing those scenes.
Tom: You know a spin off has problems when you hear rumblings that even the core fanbase of the franchise didn’t really take to it, and that’s what I’ve been hearing about Muv-Luv fans. So maybe it shouldn’t come as a surprise when none of the characters really grew on me. They either felt half-baked, with only generic tropey traits to set them apart from each other (the busty overly friendly girl, the busty overly unfriendly girl, the overly emotionally tiny girl, etc.) or characters like Theodor, who constantly make the same stupid mistakes again and again, to the point where he becomes infuriating to watch. Theodor could easily ruin the show by himself. His relentless desire to save his sister, even after it’s become more than clear that it’s not possible to save her, is a major headache in Marken’s final episodes. Not to mention that he sleeps with her, sure they’re not blood related, but good god man, have some class.
Linny: The naivety or stubborn headed-ness of some of the characters is mind boggling. If you were already struggling to identify with, or enjoy watching, these characters, your struggle will be never ending. The characters come off as generic and uninteresting, with a lot of their actions and motivations feeling either unexplained or absurd.
Tom: Despite all the trouble, and death, trying to save Theodor’s sister causes, other characters also become obsessed with this goal, despite how obvious it is that she’s so far gone mentally that’s she’s no longer worth saving. Familial love as a concept is important, but the show holds onto that idea for too long before coming to its highly telegraphed and inevitable conclusion, making the journey to that revelation more frustrating than heartbreaking.
Linny: Even as a spin off, Marken proves to be a confusing and frustrating experience thanks to its dull characters and badly executed themes. Its creepy creatures are its best feature, but even they get pushed to the sidelines as the story progresses. No matter what you’re in the mood for, there is most likely a show that will satisfy your craving better than this can.
Tom: Schwarzesmarken is a spin-off/prequel title related to the Muv-Luv series, one I’ve heard they didn’t really take to all that well (correct me if I’m wrong.) There’s no significant relation between the two, so it’s not like you’ll get confused watching Marken without having experience Muv-luv. Then again, I’m not sure you’d want to watch it anyway. Marken feels to me like something only the most die hard of fans can appreciate, and even then it’ll take a special, deep love for all things Muv-Luv to make Marken feel any less mediocre than it is.
Schwarzesmarken is available for streaming via Crunchyroll.com.